An underlying goal of oral history, ethnography and other qualitative
approaches to the humanities is to recover, with precision and contextual sensitivity,
the distinctive meanings and perspectives that have animated human experience
in its infinite complexity. This requires a dialogue relating individual experiences
to the encompassing flow of history, like parts to the whole. With proper care
we can attempt to transcend a mere sum of discrete experiences and exclusive perspectives,
through a process of interpretive recursion.
Web technology can extend qualitative
research by providing tools which augment the flexibility and precision that have
always been the hallmark of scholarly techniques. Yet as interesting and promising
as all of these tools might be, they raise a compelling question: what are the
limits to humanistic technology, broadly conceived?